National Football League players seemingly have all kinds of positive opportunities in front of them, particularly during the primes of their careers. Even those who are not All-Pros and not regarded as the best at any given positions are still able to make what most would consider to be comfortable livings, even if for a brief period of time, and individuals who think beyond their playing days should be able to set themselves up for the rest of their lives off of money they earned via their NFL contracts. This perception, fair or not, is why so many fans and outside observers find it so difficult to comprehend why some NFL players get mixed up with serious crimes and end up in prison, in some cases for years and even for decades.
Odds are those who have stumbled upon this piece are likely at least somewhat familiar with the story of the former New England Patriots tight end who lost his career and just about everything else after he was convicted of murdering somebody thought to be his friend. That man was given a life sentence without parole for his crime, but he technically will not go down as being given the largest ever prison sentence among those handed down to NFL players. Perhaps saddest of all about that story is that the young former player took his own life in prison, and, thus, so many who knew him and rooted for him during his career will never fully understand how things went so drastically wrong so quickly.
15 Sam Hurd - 15 Years
NFL wide receiver Sam Hurd flashed plenty of promise during his early days in the NFL. Some may remember him torching the New York Giants for an impressive touchdown during a nationally-televised game while he was playing for the Dallas Cowboys.
Hurd failed to cement himself as a lineup mainstay while featuring for “America’s Team,” and his brief tenure with the Chicago Bears came to a quick halt when he was arrested on drug-related charges in 2011. Hurd was unable to remain out of trouble following that initial arrest, and he eventually entered a guilty plea in his federal drug case. He was given a sentence of 15 years in prison, and he's now largely a forgotten figure among former NFL players.
14 Art Schlichter - 16 Years, 10 Years
Back in 1982, it appeared Art Schlichter had the goods to be one of the top young quarterbacks in all the NFL. Unfortunately, he could not defeat serious gambling demons that apparently haunted him all the way back to his college days. He ended up spending more time in prison than in any pro football league due to crimes he allegedly committed all because of his gambling habits, and he earned a prison sentence of 16 years in 1997 after he was found guilty of felony charges “a fifth time” since 1983 according to the New York Times.
In 2012, Schlichter went on to receive a jail sentence of ten years in 2012 for his alleged role in a ticket-scheme that reportedly robbed unsuspecting victims of millions of dollars.
13 Tommy Kane - 18 Years
Tommy Kane earned an opportunity to play wide receiver in the NFL when the Seattle Seahawks took a flier on him in the third round of the 1988 NFL Draft. Kane found the end zone nine times between 1988 and 1992, but his career ultimately ended because of injury woes. He failed to land a long-term home in the CFL before retiring from the game, and he found himself in headlines in 2003 after his wife, Tammara Shaikh, was stabbed to death after he allegedly attacked her inside of his mother’s home.
The former NFL player was able to plead guilty to a manslaughter charge, in part because of reported bouts of depression. Kane nevertheless received a prison sentence of 18 years, a controversial decision due to the brutal nature of the events that resulted in Shaikh’s death.
12 Eugene "Mercury" Morris - 20 Years
Eugene “Mercury” Morris enjoyed one of the most successful careers among those mentioned in this piece about NFL players who received lengthy prison sentences. The two-time Super Bowl champion managed to set records during his collegiate days, and he was part of that famous 1972 Miami Dolphins team that ran the table, finished the season with a perfect record and won the title.
Morris’ life changed in 1982, however, after he was convicted on multiple drug-related charges. Unlike so many cases, though, this story has a happy ending, as Morris became a positive influence who worked to teach others about the dangers of drug use. He served only three years in prison regarding his case, as he was able to plead guilty to a lesser charge.
11 Stanley Wilson - 22 Years
The story of former Cincinnati Bengals running back Stanley Wilson is downright sad considering what could have been had he been able to avoid drugs during his younger days. Wilson, famously, went AWOL the night before Super Bowl XXIII, and he was later found to be in the middle of a cocaine binge. He never again played a single recorded down for any NFL team, but his demons continued to follow him after he lost his career.
Despite multiple attempts to try to defeat his addiction, Wilson became more so known as a felon than somebody who excelled on the football field. Ten years after he missed the Super Bowl, he was convicted on theft charges. That was his third strike, which resulted in a prison sentence of 22 years.
10 Dave Meggett - 30 Years
Depending on your age, you may remember former NFL running back Dave Meggett for winning a Super Bowl with the New York Giants or for how he was represented in older video games such as Tecmo Super Bowl. In 2007, long after his playing days came to an end, Meggett received two years’ probation after he was convicted of misdemeanor sexual battery. Roughly two years after that alleged incident, Meggett was in the news once again after he was accused of attacking a young college student in her home, allegedly regarding a debt.
The former player was found guilty of criminal sexual conduct and burglary, and he was given a prison sentence of 30 years. As of the posting of this piece, Meggett is not eligible for parole until July 2034.
9 Lawrence Phillips - 31 Years
Regardless of the undeniable talent running back Lawrence Phillips possessed during his college career, multiple red flags hovered over his status as a potential NFL player due to numerous allegations of physical violence. Such concerns proved to be warranted, as Phillips encountered legal problems and was also reportedly a headache for coaches during his stint in the league. Years after he failed to become a Superstar in the NFL, Phillips was sentenced to over 31 years in prison after he allegedly attacked a girlfriend and also reportedly drove a vehicle into three teenagers.
He was later accused of killing a cellmate while behind bars, and he reportedly hanged himself in January 2016. Phillips was only 40 years old at the time he was found dead in jail.
8 O.J. Simpson - 33 Years (Potential 2017 Parole)
It’s somewhat difficult to know where to place O.J. Simpson in a piece of largest prison sentences for NFL players because we still aren’t sure how much time Simpson will spend behind bars. One of the greatest running backs in the history of the sport was famously found not guilty of murder at the conclusion of the so-called “Trial of the Century,” but he landed in court again in 2007 after he was accused of burglary and other crimes regarding an alleged incident that occurred in Las Vegas.
Simpson was found guilty this time around, and he received up to 33 years in prison for his involvement in the reported crime. It is, however, possible Simpson could be released from prison in the fall of 2017 if he's granted parole.
7 Rae Carruth - 24 Years
Rae Carruth was serving as a talented wide receiver for the Carolina Panthers when Cherica Adams, a woman he reportedly dated, was shot to death in November 1999. Adams was pregnant with Carruth’s child at the time of the murder, and prosecutors argued Carruth had Adams murdered because she refused to have an abortion. The former player was found guilty of conspiracy to commit murder, as it was learned he was not the gunman on the night Adams was murdered.
He was sentenced to roughly 24 years in prison, and it's believed he'll be released in the fall of 2018. Scott Fowler of the Charlotte News & Observer reported in October 2016 that Adams’ grandmother will take Carruth’s son, who survived the shooting, to prison on the day the former player's released.
6 Darryl Henley - 42 Years
Years ago, ESPN’s Shelley Smith wrote a fascinating and heartbreaking story about the rise and fall of Darryl Henley. Henley found success playing football at UCLA, and he went on to become a defensive back for the Los Angeles Rams. Roughly six years after he entered pro football in the 1989 NFL Draft, Henley received a prison sentence of 20 years after he was convicted on drug charges.
The story doesn’t end there, however, as Henley was later found guilty of attempting to have both the sentencing judge and a witness murdered. Henley, who turned 50 years old in October 2016, is expected to remain in prison up through the spring of 2031. As Smith explained, Henley will be 65 when he is eligible for parole.
5 Robert Rozier - 25 Years to Life
This may be the strangest story featured in this piece about prison sentences handed down to NFL players. Robert Rozier never found stardom while playing in the NFL, and he eventually joined up with Yahweh ben Yahweh's “Brotherhood” movement. Rozier admitted to killing seven individuals to please the black supremacist leader, but he was set free after serving roughly ten years of his original sentence.
Nearly three years after tasting freedom, the man remembered more so as a cult killer than an NFL star found himself in trouble again after he allegedly bounced checks. While such reported crimes are usually not worthy of lifetime prison sentences, his latest conviction came under California’s third strike law for repeat offenders. Rozier received 25 years to life behind bars.
4 Eric Naposki - Life Without Parole
Eric Naposki played linebacker during his few years in the NFL, but he never established himself as a noteworthy starter capable of landing a serious contract before he was out of the league. In July 2011, roughly 22 years after he last played a down in the NFL, Naposki was found guilty of murdering a man named William McLaughlin all the way back in 1994.
Per reports, Naposki had a relationship with McLaughlin’s girlfriend at the time the shooting occurred, and it was suggested the two were looking to cash-in on an insurance claim once McLaughlin passed away. Naposki did not receive the death penalty even though it's believed he was responsible for pulling the trigger, but he was given a sentence of life in prison without parole.
3 Aaron Hernandez - Life Without Parole
Aaron Hernandez was one of the best tight ends in the NFL while starting for the New England Patriots during the 2012 season. Nobody could have guessed at the time all that would take place over the next five years. Hernandez was arrested and charged with murder, among other crimes, in the shooting death of Odin Lloyd in 2013, and he was eventually found guilty of killing a man once thought to be his friend.
While serving a sentence of life in prison without parole, Hernandez faced murder charges regarding a double homicide that occurred in Boston back in the summer of 2012. While Hernandez was found not guilty of killing those two individuals on April 2017, he nevertheless reportedly hung himself later that same month. He died at the age of 27 years old.
2 Anthony Smith - Three Life Sentences
Anthony Smith was once known as a defensive lineman worthy of being selected with a first-round NFL Draft pick back in the spring of 1990. The number 11 pick of that draft class spent six total seasons with the Los Angeles and Oakland Raiders before he retired, somewhat shockingly, in 1997.
Two years after Smith walked away from the NFL, brothers Ricky and Kevin Nettles were kidnapped and murdered. In 2001, a man named Dennis Henderson was reportedly kidnapped and stabbed to death. It was not until 2015 that Smith was convicted of those murders, and it was suspected he may have been involved in a fourth homicide even though a jury eventually failed to convict him. Regardless of that final case, Smith received three life sentences without parole.
1 Keith Wright - Over 230 Years
Keith Wright served as a journeyman defensive lineman even though he only played in the NFL a few seasons, and he saw little playing time over a three-year period before he was out of the league for good. In August 2011, Wright was arrested regarding a trio of alleged robberies that occurred in a neighborhood of Sacramento, California. It was reported a handgun was used in each of those thefts.
Per Associated Press and CBS Sacramento reports, Wright was convicted of a variety of crimes -- 19 in all -- including armed robbery, kidnapping, first-degree burglary, false imprisonment and forcible oral copulation. Wright received 114 years to life along with an additional 120 years and eight months, meaning he theoretically would not be eligible for parole until over two centuries have passed.