There are very few instances in which managing a fantasy football team mirrors those same duties in reality. You can’t swindle some dope in a trade that nets you Drew Brees for David Garrard, and if you’re in an auction league, handing $20 million to Tom Brady is typically an unwise strategy, because most leagues offer only a few hundred dollars in the budget.

So yeah, usually you’re dealing with fantasyland stuff while you drift deep into your couch alongside a pack of Cheetos on a Sunday and brag to your digital friends about imaginary points scored in an imaginary league with teams compromised of real-life players. What a world.

But there is one glaring similarity, or at least there should be. Kickers should be treated like discount beer.

They’re bought at an extremely low price, used and abused quickly, and then the cycle begins anew after another trip to the local merchant/waiver wire. That’s why any self-respecting fantasy football player won’t pick a kicker until the final round of his/her (respect your female fantasy players, for they will embarrass you) draft. It’s also why in reality, teams should never, ever pay a premium for a kicker.

General managers typically follow that cardinal code of conduct, but every now and then there’s an exception, and it causes instinctive head scratching. This offseason, the exception’s name is Matt Prater.

Yesterday Prater signed a new deal with the Broncos, and he’ll receive $13 million over the next four years after he was designated as the team’s franchise player this year. The purpose here isn’t to Prater bash. He’s a fine kicker, and he converted 12 of his 16 attempts from +50 yards last year, the best rate in NFL history. Those long kicks surely weren’t helped by the thin air in Denver. Not at all.

Instead, let’s show you the sheer randomness of kickers from year-to-year. Or rather, I’ll let Grantland’s Bill Barnwell show you, because he’s already done the work for me. Thanks, Bill.

Barnwell charted out the accuracy rating over a two-year span between kickers with at least 20 attempts in consecutive seasons, and there was always at least a five-percent swing, and sometimes 10. Oh, and then there’s this:

Teams who spend money on their kickers are usually paying for the illusion of certainty as opposed to any real comfort. Do you know who the highest-paid kicker in football was last year? It was Billy Cundiff, who parlayed a career year with the Ravens in 2010 into a $15 million contract before last season. You might also remember Cundiff subsequently missing the single most important kick of the year, a 32-yard chip shot against the Patriots that would have pushed the AFC Championship Game into overtime.

Prater has great leg strength, but that argument to support his contract is pretty weak. In a league where even average kickers can consistently get touchbacks with the kickoffs moved up, why would a kicker ever be worthy of a franchise designation? That whole thin air in Denver thing applies here too with Prater, as it’s pretty easy to kick one into the 50th row when your home field is high up in the Rockies.

What makes this even more odd/depressing is that franchised kickers like Prater are deemed more valuable than second tier, slightly above average running backs. Mike Florio listed a few names who will now be paid less annually than Prater.

The game’s highest-paid kickers now fall between $3 million and $4 million in annual average.  And the game’s B-level tailbacks like Michael Bush ($3.5 million per year), BenJarvus Green-Ellis ($3 million), Peyton Hillis ($2.6 million), and Mike Tolbert ($2.5 million) aren’t holding up well in comparison.

Kickers are important, and they always have been, as it’s simply important to trust your kicker in a situation where a game can be won or lost with a single boot. But in a league where running backs absorb an intense pounding, should kickers be on the same level as the backup RB who’s often platooning with the starter?

And now the links part of the links post…

  • While America celebrates, in Oakland they’re solemnly acknowledging another birthday happening. Al Davis would have been 83 today. [Silver and Black Pride]
  • The players’ response to Roger Goodell’s decision to uphold the Bountygate suspensions was pretty much exactly what you expected. [Canal Street Chronicles]
  • This whole business about having raw, in-game audio through player mics available to fans who are at the game sounds like terrific fun until someone tells someone to stick something somewhere. [Wall Street Journal]
  • Will the 2012 Bears be better than the 2006 Bears? [Bear Goggles On]
  • Jeff Fisher still thinks that Chris Johnson doesn’t suck. [The Tennessean]
  • Only one percent of Buffalo Rumblings readers disapprove of Chan Gailey in the blog’s most recent monthly approval poll. You know what that means, right? Yep, it’s July. [Buffalo Rumblings]
  • So, Tom Coughlin has another 15-20 years of coaching left in him? See, I knew it. He’s a cyborg, and/or a time-traveling humanoid. [New York Post]
  • A 100-catch season for Aaron Hernandez? Yes, that does sound quite possible. [Andy Hart]
  • Ronde Barber is the logical and obvious replacement in Tampa Bay if Eric Wright is suspended. Good luck with that. [SB Nation]
  • A spine-tingling rendition of Francis Scott Key’s famous poem turned anthem seems like a fitting finale for today’s links. Happy birthday, Amercia.