Hurd, 27, pleaded guilty in federal court in Dallas to one count of possession of cocaine and marijuana with intent to distribute. He pleaded guilty days before his trial was scheduled to begin, without any promise of a more lenient sentence.
He faces 10 years to life in prison when he is sentenced in July.
Standing in an orange jumpsuit, the tall, lanky Hurd leaned into a microphone and asked to address the court.
"I'm sorry for everything I've done," he said in a brief statement, adding that he intended to plead guilty for months and never expected the process to take as long as it did.
Hurd was playing for the Chicago Bears in December 2011—months after signing a contract reportedly worth more than $5 million—when he attended a meeting at a Chicago-area steakhouse with an undercover officer and a confidential informant. Prosecutors have alleged in court documents that Hurd accepted a kilogram of cocaine from the officer and signaled that he'd be interested in buying large, weekly quantities of cocaine and marijuana.
Hurd was arrested outside the steakhouse and cut by the Bears shortly afterward.
He was released on bond, but was re-arrested in August after failing drug tests and being accused of trying to arrange another drug buy.
Jay Ethington, one of Hurd's attorneys, said after court Thursday that his client was "an extensive marijuana user," which may have contributed to his involvement in trafficking. Ethington also blamed "parasites," including two former co-defendants who have pleaded guilty, for drawing Hurd into criminal activity.
"Here's a young fellow that had his whole life ahead of him," Ethington said, adding that Hurd was active in charity work on his own. "Now that's all gone."
Hurd, a native of San Antonio, played college football at Northern Illinois and then five seasons with the Dallas Cowboys before signing a three-year contract with the Bears in 2011 that was reportedly worth up to $5.15 million. He had mostly played on special teams, playing in 77 games overall with six starts and two career touchdowns.
Teammates and coaches were shocked by his arrest. According to documents filed by prosecutors, Hurd agreed to purchase up to 10 kilograms of cocaine for $25,000 per kilogram and asked for up to 1,000 pounds of marijuana a week.
Ethington suggested to reporters that those figures were exaggerated. Asked if Hurd had customers lined up to buy drugs from him, Ethington responded, "I know he didn't."
Prosecutors and Hurd's attorneys worked for months on finalizing a guilty plea. One sticking point was what allegations Hurd would acknowledge in a plea agreement.
Hurd's relatives declined to comment after the hearing.