Just got off the phone with Tatum Bell. He said there was nothing sinister about taking Rudi Johnson's bags out of the locker room Monday, that he was trying to do a friend a favor and had nothing to do with Johnson's missing money, clothes or credit cards. His story:
Bell got a phone call from Lions director of pro personnel Sheldon White after practice Monday saying the Lions had agreed to terms with Johnson and he was going to be released. He returned to the team's Allen Park practice facility to collect his belongings and grabbed two bags by a row of computers in the Lions' locker room that he thought belonged to defensive end Victor DeGrate. Bell and DeGrate attended the same high school (DeSoto in Texas) and college (Oklahoma State), and DeGrate lived with Bell for a period of time this summer.
Bell said DeGrate asked him to pick up his "backpack and grab (his) stuff" after DeGrate was released Saturday. He saw the bags sitting on the floor, by no one's locker, assumed they were DeGrate's and, after texting DeGrate but getting no reply, took them outside to the trunk of his car. Later, he dropped the bags off at a female friend of DeGrate's and returned home.
The Lions called the next day to say they caught Bell on camera taking two bags out of the locker room. Bell said he told the Lions the bags were DeGrate's. When they told him the bags were in fact Johnson's, Bell said he contacted DeGrate, who contacted the female, who returned the bags Tuesday afternoon.
Bell said he didn't know who emptied Johnson's bag of about $200 and the assorted clothing, but it wasn't him.
"I don't want to say it was her," Bell said of the DeGrate's friend. "But it was somebody that was over there at the house. I didn't go in the house. I don't know what was going on over there, I didn't even pay attention. I was doing a friend a favor and at the time I thought it was his bag. Everybody in the league got a Gucci backpack and a Louis backpack and a Zendi backpack. I'm like, 'Dang, I made a mistake. I messed up.'"
Bell said he offered to pay for the missing items, had a short conversation with an angry Johnson, and after hearing from various friends around the league wants to clear his name that's been wrongly soiled.
"Today comes and teams (are) calling, whoever's calling, and the Lions (are) saying I'm a thief and so that's going out to other teams, Tatum Bell's a thief so you don't want him in your locker room," Bell said. "I think it's unfair for the Lions not even to listen to me. They know I'm loyal. All the BS I went through last year with (Mike) Martz and not playing and I still went out there and practiced every day and still was a good teammate, kept everybody's spirits up. I wasn't never dogging nobody, nothing. I didn't burn no bridges last year and for them to throw me under the bus and just believe Rudi because that's who they (signed) ...
"Basically, it just seems like you got released and you're mad, you took the bags. That's a bunch of BS. I hate that it went down like that, but that's how it went down. And that's the whole story."