Former Chicago Bears wide receiver Sam Hurd was sentenced to 15 years in prison Wednesday after pleading guilty in April to one count of trying to buy and distribute large amounts of cocaine and marijuana.
The charge carried a minimum 10-year sentence but Hurd faced the possibility of spending the rest of his life in prison.
While NFL teammates and friends knew Hurd as a hardworking wide receiver and married father, authorities say he was fashioning a separate identity as a wannabe drug kingpin with a focus on "high-end deals" and a need for large amounts of cocaine and marijuana.
His December 2011 arrest outside a suburban Chicago steakhouse came after he tried to buy a kilogram of cocaine in what turned out to be a sting. According to a federal complaint, Hurd told an undercover agent that he wanted 5 to 10 kilograms of cocaine and 1,000 pounds of marijuana per week to distribute in the Chicago area. He claimed he was already distributing 4 kilograms a week, according to the complaint. A kilogram is about 2.2 pounds.
At the time, Hurd was a wide receiver with stints for the Bears and Dallas Cowboys who had played most of his five seasons on special teams. He was in the first year of a three-year contract reportedly worth more than $5 million.
The Bears soon cut him. Hurd was released on bond and returned to Texas, where he grew up, but soon fell into trouble again, according to court documents. He allegedly tried to buy more cocaine and marijuana through a cousin, Jesse Tyrone Chavful, and failed two drug tests. That led a magistrate judge in August 2012 to revoke his bond and order him returned to jail.
In April, when the tall, lanky Hurd stood before a judge in an orange jumpsuit and pleaded guilty, he asked to address the court.
"I'm sorry for everything I've done," he told the judge.
While no other players are known to have been charged in connection with the case, Hurd claimed in an interview published Tuesday that he shared marijuana with Cowboys teammates and smoked during the last three to four years of his career "all day, every day."
"I'm in the NFL, and I'm gonna ask people for a few hundred dollars on top of what I paid for it? Nah," Hurd told Sports Illustrated. "Slide me what I got it for and take it. Enjoy it."
Cowboys coach Jason Garrett, asked Tuesday about Hurd, declined to comment "because I just don't know anything about that."
Cowboys defensive tackle Jason Hatcher, a former teammate of Hurd's, called Hurd a "great guy in the locker room" and a "great teammate."
"It's very shocking to hear," Hatcher said. "But as far as everybody smoking in the NFL, I don't know. As long as you keep your business, whatever you do off the field is your business. I really don't know what to say about that situation."
One of Hurd's attorneys, Jay Ethington, has said that Hurd was given no promise of leniency for pleading guilty and avoiding trial.
Chavful and another co-defendant, Toby Lujan, have both pleaded guilty to being involved in the conspiracy. Solis, who sentenced Hurd, gave Chavful eight years in prison for a much smaller role in the scheme. Lujan will be sentenced in January.
There is no parole in the federal system, though inmates can typically apply for early release after completing 85 percent of their sentences.
According to the U.S. Sentencing Commission, the average sentence handed down for drug trafficking cases in Texas' Northern District, where Hurd was prosecuted, was about 9½ years between October 2011 and September 2012, the most recent period for which statistics are available.