Arizona Cardinals sign six free agents with defensive upgrade a priority

Defensive tackle Bilal Nichols talks to the media Thursday after signing a three-year deal with the Arizona Cardinals. (Photo by Aaron Decker/Cronkite News)

TEMPE – The Arizona Cardinals have been active participants in the free agency process this NFL offseason, and Thursday, the team officially signed six players to their roster.

Most of the newest players will fill holes on the defensive side of the ball. Cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting, outside linebacker Mack Wilson Sr., and defensive linemen Justin Jones and Bilal Nichols were all signed to three-year deals.

The new offensive additions include running back DeeJay Dallas, who inked a three-year deal, and offensive lineman Jonah Williams, who signed a two-year contract.

The Cardinals enter the 2024 offseason with hopes of improving from last season, where they finished last in the NFC West with a 4-13 record. Despite the team’s second consecutive losing season, the outlook for the team is high as general manager Monti Ossenfort and coach Jonathan Gannon enter their second seasons with the organization. For many of the new players, the changing culture made Arizona an appealing destination.

Williams, the Cardinals’ newest offensive lineman, has seen his former team go from worst to first, as well as being part of a changing team culture. Williams spent all four seasons of his career with the Cincinnati Bengals, mainly as a left tackle for his first three seasons before moving to right tackle in 2023. In his rookie season, the Bengals finished 4-11-1 but followed the next season with an appearance in Super Bowl 56. Now a Cardinal, he senses the positive energy and atmosphere that surrounds the team.

“It’s an exciting place as an organization,” Williams said. “I feel it’s a team on an upward trajectory and I was fortunate to be a part of something like that in Cincinnati.”

The positive vibes inside the organization are supercharged by the energetic attitude of its leader, Gannon. The coach’s upbeat but honest personality is well known to Cardinals fans, but many of the new players met Gannon for the first time on Thursday.

“It’s not fake. There are some guys who kind of fake the energy, I do not think he is faking the energy, I think it is 100% real,” Williams said.

In their second offseason, Gannon and Ossenfort have built an electric and welcoming environment, but they have also looked at signing free agents who not only fit their scheme but fill much-needed holes in their roster. One area that needed attention was the cornerback position. The team signed Murphy-Bunting to add a veteran presence to a young cornerback room that had five rookies last season. For the sixth-year corner, being a veteran means also taking on a leadership role.

“You have to know how to lead and you can lead in many different ways,” Murphy-Bunting said.

”I can talk to them about … being a starting corner, being a player that’s coming off the bench, being a Super Bowl champion.”

Murphy-Bunting spent last season with the Tennessee Titans following four years with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, where he won a Super Bowl. In his career, he has tallied eight interceptions and has shown a knack for getting involved in tackling.

Running back Dee Jay Dallas joins the Arizona Cardinals after playing four seasons with the division-rival Seattle Seahawks. (Photo by Aaron Decker/Cronkite News)

Running back Dee Jay Dallas joins the Arizona Cardinals after playing four seasons with the division-rival Seattle Seahawks. (Photo by Aaron Decker/Cronkite News)

“It’s just being a complete player,”Murphy-Bunting said. “Most of the time teams assume that corners don’t like to tackle or corners don’t like to be there for run support. But when they do show up, it changes the whole aspect and the dynamic of that defense and of that game.”

Another area where the Cardinals needed to address was on the defensive line, and they found solutions through Jones and Nichols. With six seasons under their belts, they will be the longest-tenured players on the unit.

Nichols brings with him a unique attribute for a defensive lineman; staying healthy. The former Las Vegas Raider and Chicago Bear has yet to miss a game in four seasons. Along with durability, Nichols already has his mind set on what he wants the defensive line to look like.

“I want us to be known as a very physical defensive line. You stop the run, that’s my goal,” Nichols said. “I want to bring in a mindset into this organization or D-line room that we are the baddest mofos walking, point blank, period, and nobody out physicals us.”

Nichols and Jones are looking to be a powerful tandem on the defense. Both have been friends since they met at the Senior Bowl and while they carry with them a desire to play with intensity, they also want to have fun doing so.

“Have some energy, have some fun with it, have some swagger, enjoy what you do but do it with a nasty attitude at the same time,” Jones said.

The team didn’t just stick to signing in areas of dire need but looked at players that can add depth and versatility to the roster. After four seasons with the rival Seattle Seahawks, Dallas joins the running back room led by James Conner. In Seattle, Dallas played a large role on special teams, taking part in 62% of the special teams snaps.

“Special teams takes a special type of attitude. You got to go out and really know that this is one play that could break or make the game,” Dallas said. “So I approach it with the same mentality that I would approach it if it was offense.”

Because of their division rivalry, Dallas had two opportunities to watch the Gannon-led Cardinals last season. Even though it was Seattle winning both games, the Cardinals made a quick impression on him.

“Just seeing the trajectory that JG (Jonathan Gannon) had the team on, they were playing fast, playing physical,” Dallas said. “ I could see they were having fun. So yeah, I’m ready to have some fun.”

The new city, new uniforms, new coaches and new mascot also mean a chance for more opportunities. That can be said for Wilson, who spent three seasons with the Cleveland Browns and two seasons with the New England Patriots. Each season, Wison’s starting opportunities have dwindled, going from 14 starts in his rookie season to one last year.

“I feel like it’s fresh air, I feel something special here,” Wilson said. “I’m excited. I’m ready to get to work and here you go, I’m a Cardinal.”

Aaron Decker(he/him)
Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Aaron Decker expects to graduate in May 2024 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a certificate in sports, cultures and ethics. Decker has worked with Sports Illustrated Fan Nation as a reporter and works for KDUS AM 1060 as a board operator.