By Chris Emma

By Chris Emma–

(CBS) A.J. Bouye bet on himself this season and will soon reap the rewards.

With the Texans seeming unlikely to tender the franchise tag on Bouye, as the Houston Chronicle reported, he’s in line to hit the open market as one of the top cornerbacks available. Bouye declined a lesser offer last spring, believing he was worthy of more.

Houston has around $25 million in cap space, and Bouye would warrant $14 million with the tag. He’s expected to be paid as a top cornerback in free agency.

The 25-year-old Bouye fits what the Bears have sought in free agency. Similar to linebacker Danny Trevathan last year, Bouye is a player entering his prime who should be available as a cap casualty. Bears general manager Ryan Pace has been willing to invest in young upside — look no further than defensive lineman Akiem Hicks, who signed at 26 and had his best NFL season in 2016.

Chicago has needs in the entire secondary, with many upgrades desired. Pace has stated that he plans to be active in free agency. He can solidify the roster headed into the NFL Draft with fewer needs. Cornerback is a priority for upgrades.

“I honestly think we need to add more playmakers to our secondary,” Pace said in early January.”We need to add more ball skills to our secondary. That’s on me, and we’ll do that.”

Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio agrees — his defense needs players who can force the football away.

“It’s a priority,” Fangio said last month at the Senior Bowl. “To be a good defense, you got to be able to take the ball away. We haven’t done that well. We got to find guys that can do it. We got to improve in a lot of areas. If you improve a little bit in all spots, the takeaways will come, as long as you got some guys that have the knack for doing it.”

Bouye, who came into the league as an undrafted free agent, had two interceptions in the postseason, including one on Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. He has six interceptions in three regular seasons as a starter for the Texans.

The Bears have struggled to force turnovers, posting just eight interceptions last season. That ranked second-to-last in the NFL.

This free agent class of cornerbacks is expected to be rich in talent, with players like Logan Ryan, Morris Claiborne and Trumaine Johnson among those joining Bouye on the open market.

Should the Bears be ready to move for an upgrade at cornerback — all indications seem to suggest that — Bouye would seem to be one of their first phone calls.

Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670 and like his Facebook page.

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