New Cardinals Bilal Nichols, Justin Jones finally get chance to team up

Mar 30, 2024, 12:19 PM

TEMPE — New Arizona Cardinals defensive tackles Bilal Nichols and Justin Jones first crossed paths at the 2018 Senior Bowl.

With Nichols a late addition to the field, the lineman was thrown into the mix behind the eight ball and the All-Star game just days away.

Luckily for the lineman, Jones was there to lend a hand in the playbook and in the friend department.

Since that week in 2018, the two remained in touch, with the thought of joining forces once more never quite leaving the brain.

In 2024, that thought is now a reality with both Nichols and Jones inking three-year deals with the Cardinals.

The word “excited” is an understatement.

“I get a call from Justin, ‘Hey boy, I just signed in Arizona, too.’ Mind you, I’m in school with my daughter … so I’m trying to keep it quiet because all the kids in there,” Nichols said during his introductory press conference earlier this month. “I’m like, ‘No way! We’re going to get a great opportunity to make each other better and make a statement out there.’ Literally, as soon as I got out into the parking lot I screamed. I can’t wait to go to work with him.”

“We’ve been back and forth for years, so the fact that we’re on the same team now is crazy,” Jones added during his first interview as a Cardinal. “It’s good to know you got somebody with the same exact mindset as you about winning and wanting to play a tough, physical game and make plays and ball and have fun and celebrate. … You don’t run into guys like that all the time, so I think that’s special.”

The Cardinals are hoping the already built-in friendship and violent mentality the duo share can go a long way in boosting a defensive line that seriously needs just that.

Last season, Arizona finished dead last against the run, allowing 143.2 yards per game to opposing ball carriers. It was tied with Houston for the fourth-most touchdowns given up with 19.

Though it had its bright spots — the play of then-rookie Dante Stills chief among them — the line struggled to find consistency behind a long list of injuries to key members.

Adding starting-caliber talent that can stay on the field was a high priority for general manager Monti Ossenfort in his second offseason on the job.

Nichols and Jones check both boxes with permanent ink.

Since 2020, Nichols has 65 starts under his belt and hasn’t missed a game. He’s got 11 sacks, 20 tackles for loss and 35 QB hits to show for in those four seasons of work.

Jones meanwhile is coming off back-to-back seasons of 17 starts, with 7.5 sacks and 22 tackles for loss and 24 QB hits during that span.

And on top of the duo’s impressive track record from availability, they also bring a mentality and a message to the room that as head coach Jonathan Gannon likes to say, “pays the price of admission” for what the team is looking for in its players.

“I want us to be known as a very physical defensive line,” Nichols said. “Stop the run, that’s my goal. I want to bring in a mindset into this organziation and our D-line room of just like, ‘We’re the baddest mofos walking.’ Point. Blank. Period. Nobody out-physicals us. That’s just what it is.”

“You got to be a mean SOB,” Jones added. “That’s what it is. It’s a man’s game. When we’re on that field, there’s people out there with kids and wives and moms they’re taking care of, family and all types of stuff. So when you’re on that field, either I eat or you eat. And I’m not going hungry today.”

A couple of Cardinals looking for prime real estate

Since their lockers are likely going to be next to each other, why not go all-in with houses on the same street?

“I asked him where he was thinking about moving at,” Nichols said. “We’re talking that over so hopefully we can get something real close next to each other. And we got kids that are the similar age.”

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