Or did they? It's a difficult comparison to make, but we'll certainly try.
ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter reports that Kaepernick's deal is for six years and worth more than $100 million, including $61 million guaranteed. Cutler signed a seven-year extension in January worth $126.7 million and $54 million guaranteed.
According to ESPN Stats & Information, Kaepernick is the third-highest-rated quarterback in the NFL since his first start in Week 11 of 2012 -- which was against the Bears in a 32-7 rout -- with a Total QBR of 69.6, behind only Peyton Manning (83.3) and Aaron Rodgers (71.3). During that span, Kaepernick is tied for fourth in the league in victories (17) and ranks in the top 7 in yards per pass attempt and yards per rush.
In the postseason, Kaepernick owns a record of 4-2, which includes two playoff comebacks capped by game-winning drives.
Meanwhile, Cutler is 1-1 in the playoffs, completing just 50 percent of his passes for a passer rating of 84.8.
So it would be easy -- but also perhaps shortsighted -- to say Kaepernick deserved the big money, while Cutler didn't. But you'd need to look at it a little deeper to get a sense for why the Bears upped the ante to extend Cutler.
First off, general managers do like to reward players for what they've accomplished. But when making big-money moves such as the deals struck with Cutler and Kaepernick, it's more about projecting what the player will do in the future, as opposed to what he's done in the past.
In Cutler's case, he's coming off a 2013 season playing with an almost entirely new offensive line, new head coach, and new scheme run by his fourth offensive coordinator in five seasons, yet he produced a career-best passer rating (89.2), while posting the highest completion percentage (63.1) since his second year in the NFL. So after four years of bad offensive lines, turnover with offensive coordinators and changes in offensive philosophy, not to mention a serious lack of offensive weapons, the Bears finally put together the conditions necessary for Cutler to thrive in his fifth season in Chicago.
Kaepernick already had them when he shredded Chicago in his first start, throwing for 243 yards and two touchdowns to go with a passer rating of 133.1 against a Bears defense that entered that game allowing 14.8 points per game while leading the NFL in takeaways (30).
Again, it's about projecting what the player will do moving forward moreso than rewarding him for what he did in the past. And if we're projecting, what's interesting is San Francisco unloaded the Brinks truck on a player who seemed to regress in 2013 after a strong campaign in 2012. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Kaepernick completed 60.5 percent of his passes in the pocket in 2013, after completing 65.7 of his throws from the pocket in 2012, his first year as a starter.
That's not to say Kaepernick isn't worth the big payday because from this vantage point, he is.
But so is Cutler, who seems poised to take yet another step forward under Marc Trestman, operating out of the same scheme with the same coordinator for consecutive years for just the second time during his tenure in Chicago.
Dallas' Tony Romo has participated in four postseason contests over his career and owns a 1-3 in the playoffs with a completion percentage of 59.26 and a passer rating of 80.8. Yet in the new contract signed back in March, Romo received $1 million more in guarantees than Cutler over six years as opposed to seven years.
But would you rather have Romo than Cutler?
Chicago didn't overpay. The Bears simply paid the going rate on team-friendly terms for a player that could ultimately turn out to be bargain if he continues to grow.