INDIANAPOLIS -- The Houston Texans did not apply the franchise tag to cornerback A.J. Bouye on Wednesday, but head coach Bill O'Brien reiterated what he said at the end of the season -- that he wants Bouye back on the roster for the 2017 season.
"A.J. is a very important part of our team," O'Brien said at the combine on Wednesday. "I've said that all along. He's a guy that has really worked hard to improve his own skillset. He played very well for us this year. He played well for us last year. John Butler, our secondary coach, has done an excellent job with him. We really want him back.
"We understand the process of how it all works. Hopefully we can get him back before free agency starts, but if it doesn't, we'll continue to work hard to try to get him back on our team. But we'd like to have him back."
If the Texans had tagged Bouye, he would have made more than $14 million next season. He will still command a high price tag wherever he goes in free agency. With the NFL salary cap set at $167 million next season, the Texans will have less than $24 million to work with and have areas of need beyond Bouye.
Bouye, a former undrafted free agent, entered the season asthe Texans' fourth cornerback, behind veterans Johnathan Joseph and Kareem Jackson and 2015 first-round pick Kevin Johnson. But, due to injuries to those three players and Bouye's impressive play, he became their best cornerback by the end of the season.
Bouye had 63 tackles, a sack, an interception and 16 passes defended during the regular season and had an interception in each of the Texans' two playoff games.