While the Saints were scarred by a messy bounty scandal, Brees emerged from the dust somewhat unscathed and with reason to smile. He became the richest player in NFL history after signing a five-year, $100 million deal that included a record $60 million guaranteed.
Translation: A strong 2012 could lead to Cutler's next big payday as a Bear.
"If you win Super Bowls, if you get to the playoffs repeatedly and you have continued success, the quarterback is going to get paid,'' Cutler said. "That's just how it is. That's how the league has evolved. When it's my time, we'll see what happens."
Cutler, with two years left on his contract, has yet to reach the Super Bowl and has played in just two career postseason games. But most believe he'll enjoy a banner season with his new offensive weapons, led by old friend Brandon Marshall. If that occurs and Cutler remains healthy, the Bears would be smart to lock up their 29-year-old gunslinger for many years.
"He's played well enough to be taken care of,'' linebacker Brian Urlacher. "They thought enough to bring him in here for two first-round picks. Then they paid him. And I think they should pay him again.
"I think he's awesome. He makes our team better. You saw how important he was to our team when he wasn't in there."
Cutler has $16.67 million remaining on his contract. After the Bears acquired him in April 2009, they renegotiated his deal in October. Cutler was given a two-year, $29.3 million extension that included $20 million guaranteed, an extension that averaged $14.7 million per season.
Cutler seems unlikely to touch Brees' average of $20 million, but maintaining the $14.7 million annual salary or exceeding it by a million or two would be a respectable figure. Quarterbacks such as Peyton Manning ($19.2 million per season), Tom Brady ($18 million), and Eli Manning ($16.25 million) have won Super Bowls to back their lucrative numbers. And Aaron Rodgers ($10.8 million annually) is sure to be rewarded soon with a Brees-like deal.
Cutler has a career completion percentage of 61.1 and a quarterback rating of 84.5. Those numbers are lower than all the aforementioned quarterbacks except for Eli Manning (58.4 and 82.1). But Eli Manning has two Super Bowl titles on his resume.
"I think it takes care of itself in the end,'' Marshall said. "And I think in the end, Jay is one the best quarterbacks in the league.''
Neither Cutler nor his agent, Bus Cook, has approached Bears general manager Phil Emery about an extension. Emery has made it clear that players will be rewarded based on performance, regardless of age or position.
"When will my time come? I don't know,'' Cutler said. "I'm just worried about this year. I'll let my agent handle all that.
"Whenever Phil (Emery) and the rest of the organization want to talk, we'll listen. But I'm just concentrating on what's going on with us on the field. We'll see what happens from there.''
Brad Biggs contributed to this story.