Bears general manager sees team headed in right direction

LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) Chicago Bears general manager Ryan Pace is well aware he has a long to-do list this offseason. He also senses the positive vibes.

He believes the Bears are headed in the right direction despite finishing last in the NFC North at 6-10 and missing the playoffs for the eighth time in nine years.

''The record's frustrating, the close losses are frustrating,'' Pace said Monday, a day after a season-ending loss to Detroit. ''Those kind of give you some sleepless nights. But then when I think bigger picture, I am excited with what we've got going here.''

The Bears made a surprising jump into playoff contention in their first season under Pace and coach John Fox before dropping four of their final five games. Even though they finished with just one more win than in 2014, they at least looked like they were building toward something after coming apart the previous season.

Question is: Where do they go from here?

Pace acknowledged the need to add play-makers to a team with holes on offense and defense. He said the Bears have a ''healthy salary cap'' and the flexibility to make moves. But about one-third of the roster also has expiring contracts. Topping that list are two-time Pro Bowl running back Matt Forte and No. 1 receiver Alshon Jeffery.

Offensive and defensive coordinators Adam Gase and Vic Fangio could be in the mix for head-coaching jobs, with Fox saying three teams have requested permission to interview Gase.

While Pace wasn't about to discuss negotiations with players, Forte wasn't ready to rule out staying with the team that drafted him in 2008. Given his age (30) and the fact that he split time with Jeremy Langford and Ka'Deem Carey, there is a sense that Sunday's game might have been his last with the Bears.

''Everybody's acting like it's a going-away party, like a funeral or something,'' Forte said. ''No decisions have been made. I can be back.''

Jeffery sidestepped questions about his status, saying he would leave that to his agent and Pace. He could be a candidate for the franchise-player tag after being limited to nine games by various injuries, although Pace acknowledged that is generally not the preferred route.

Jeffery, a second-round draft pick in 2012, shrugged off the possibility of the team using the franchise tag, saying, ''If it happens, it happens.''

Pace was also asked if Martellus Bennett will be back next season. The free-spirited tight end missed offseason workouts because he wanted a contract extension even though he had two years remaining, forcing him to play catch-up learning Gase's system. He played in 11 games before going on injured reserve with a rib injury.

''There's some things he can do better. There are some things he did really well,'' Pace said. ''We're going to analyze that in the coming weeks.''

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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and http://twitter.com/AP-NFL

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