The jury's out on Will Clarke, but 2016 may be the year he's given an opportunity to prove himself. The Bengals let Wallace Gilberry walk in free agency, and even now, as free agent signees don't count against compensatory picks, the team hasn't signed a veteran to compete with Clarke, Margus Hunt or Marcus Hardison. For better or for worse, it looks as though the Bengals will trust their past drafting strategy and expect their young players to make an impact and earn an increased role. But if Cincinnati were to sign a free agent, who is still available?
Of the available free agents remaining, Dwight Freeney is easily the best option. The only edge rusher to get past Andrew Whitworth and bring down an opposing quarterback for a sack in the past two seasons, Freeney is still one of the NFL's premiere situational edge rushers. His spin move is so effective that despite opposing offensive tackles knowing it's coming, Freeney still gets right through the offensive line. Freeney spent the past couple of seasons playing outside linebacker, but he spent the majority of his career as a 4-3 defensive end on the Colts. In Cincinnati, he'd be a nickel package defensive end at best, but he could be extremely effective, even at age 36.
Biermann has spent his entire eight-year career in Atlanta, but it doesn't look like the Falcons are bringing him back. Biermann is more of a run-stuffing defensive end than an edge rusher, and though his acquisition wouldn't be as flashy as bringing in Freeney, it would give the Bengals depth behind Carlos Dunlap and Michael Johnson in base packages. The two ends have stayed very healthy during their careers, so bringing in Biermann would give the two towering defensive linemen some time to rest, or his addition could act as injury insurance.
Mike Neal is one of the most interesting free agents left on the market. A three-technique defensive tackle at Purdue, Neal was converted to a 3-4 outside linebacker in Green Bay. The versatility Neal has provided in his career suggests he could play end in the Bengals' 4-3 scheme. He spent his NFL career playing on the edge and his college career playing on the defensive line; why not try him out as a 4-3 end? Bringing in Neal, however, seems highly unlikely simply due to the fact that the Bengals already have two players who have been developmental projects at defensive end. It would be more beneficial to let Clarke, Hunt and Hardison earn snaps and see what they can do on the field.
From a talent level, Hardy is the best free agent left on the market. However, as a human being, I wouldn't want to touch him. If Ray Rice still hasn't gotten a shot after expressing remorse for his past actions, Hardy, who is completely unapologetic, doesn't deserve a second chance. Adding him would simply perpetuate the stereotype that the Bengals overlook off-the-field issues with the players they add to their roster, which, at this point, is a false narrative anyways. There's a reason the Cowboys didn't want Hardy back despite his six sacks being the second-most on their team in 2015. Hardy may have tallied the sacks, but it clearly didn't have that much of an impact, as the Cowboys' defense was still one of the worst in football last season. NFL fans shouldn't want their favorite team to give Hardy a shot. He doesn't deserve it.