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Should Sam Hurd Arrest Have Surprised Bears?

By Benjy Lipsman in News on Dec 16, 2011 4:40PM

What a season for the Bears: After a 7-3 start where it seemed the playoffs were a certainty, the wheels have fallen off. The team lost quarterback Jay Cutler to injury, followed by running back Matt Forte. Having lost three straight to fall to 7-6, they're now outside the playoff picture looking in. So having one of their offensive and special teams players arrested on major drug charges is not the type of distraction the club needed right now.

Yesterday, wide receiver Sam Hurd was arrested on charges that he tried to purchase large quantities of cocaine and marijuana in order to grow his drug trade that was already allegedly bringing in up to $200,000 a week. But how did this Avon Barksdale wannabe — or is he more Nancy Botwin? — end up on the Bears in the first place?

‘‘I never saw it coming,’’ said Bears coach Lovie Smith when asked about Hurd’s arrest by federal agents. Hurd's teammates were also stunned and dismayed by Thursday's developments. But there were signs that Hurd had made some questionable choices even before signing with the Bears this off-season.

Hurd, a San Antonio native who played his college ball at Northern Illinois, spent the past five seasons with the Dallas Cowboys. Following the NFL lockout, Hurd signed a 3-year, $5.1 million contract with the Bears July 29. The day before, Hurd was speaking to Department of Homeland Security agents about drugs and $88,000 in cash found in his car, driven at the time of a traffic stop by an associate. The "traffic stop" had been initiated after Hurd's alleged co-conspirator tried to buy four kilos of cocaine from an undercover agent on July 27. Perhaps these events occurred too close to his signing for there to be any discoverable evidence. But given the frenzy of the shortened off-season signing period, it might have done the Bears well to continue their due diligence on new players even after the ink was dry.

The Bears had a number of issues with players running afoul of the law in recent years, notably Tank Johnson and Cedric Benson. The team acted swiftly and parted ways with players that got into trouble off the field. They also claimed to steer clear of players who had red flags go up when checking their background. Before the 2010 season, assistant GM Tim Ruskell instructed their scouting staff that they couldn't pursue any more players with questionable pasts. So just how did Hurd become a member of the Bears?

David Haugh calls for team management to address how previous matter slipped past them. It's entirely possible that the secrecy of Homeland Security investigating Hurd prevented the Bears from discovering this. But as Haugh states, the team not explaining what they knew and when suggests they dropped the ball one way or another. (Man, that Roy Williams is contagious!). The only team official to speak so far has been Lovie Smith, who claims to have been blindsided by the news.

Perhaps it was Hurd's other off-the-field behaviors that threw others off the scent. columnist Jean-Jacques Taylor recounted Hurd's religiousness and dedication to getting better as a football player during his time with the Cowboys. He's also spent time with special needs kids (video) and working with other charities (video). So perhaps he really had more in common with the main character from Weeds than The Wire, as he was hiding in plain sight while operating his drug operations.

And because he was allegedly dealing to his peers. According to The Score 670AM, law-enforcement officials have obtained a list of NFL players in "the double digits,'' to whom Hurd sold drugs. Could more Bears players get caught up in Hurd's legal troubles? Despite Lovie's on-the-record naivete, it's not hard to imagine his teammates were among his clients. This could snowball into one of the NFL's biggest scandals and the Bears could be right in the middle of it all. It's the kind of story that might finally push GM Jerry Angelo into retirement.