WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. — New Orleans wanted Brodrick Bunkley back.

The Saints valued the veteran defensive tackle’s leadership, his willingness to take pay cuts in each of the past two offseasons, and the play he could bring if he were healthy.

But Bunkley’s injured quadriceps forced the team to make an unpleasant decision, releasing the nine-year veteran with a failed physical designation.

“There’s still a little bit of time with his rehab,” Saints coach Sean Payton said. “With regards to his release, it had nothing to do with us saying, ‘We’re going to move on.’ It just felt like, at the time, there was still quite a bit of work to be done with the rehab process.”

Bunkley tore the quad in the Saints’ loss to the Ravens in November, and the injury lingered, forcing him to sit out all of New Orleans’ summer workouts.

Payton did leave the possibility open that Bunkley could return to the team eventually, either as a healthy player or a contributor who can help teach the roster in training camp.

“We were pulling for him as much as anybody,” Payton said. “Because he does have a presence, and he’s so well-respected.”

On the mend

New Orleans expects Marques Colston and Jairus Byrd to return to the field soon despite placing both key veterans on the physically unable to perform list.

“Where they’re at right now, it’s pretty common,” Payton said. “Those guys are going to be able to do that sooner than later. It’s not unusual. I don’t expect them to be there for a long period of time.”

The Saints’ decision-makers aren’t concerned about any of the players who will start camp off the field because of injuries.

Defensive tackle Glenn Foster joined Colston and Byrd on the PUP list. Cornerback Brian Dixon, linebacker Davis Tull, running back Marcus Murphy and offensive lineman Antonio Johnson will all start the season on the non-football injury list.

“We don’t see any of those as being long term, we feel good about where those guys are at,” Saints general manager Mickey Loomis said. “We knew that some of them would linger into the first part of training camp. The two guys you mentioned (Colston and Byrd) are veteran players. They’ll be ready to roll soon enough.”

Deflate-gate?

New Orleans has been at the center of the kind of maelstrom the New England Patriots are navigating right now.

But Loomis and Payton both steered away from any comments on the furor surrounding the NFL’s decision to uphold Tom Brady’s four-game suspension.

“I have thoughts, but I’m not going to disclose them,” Loomis said. “I just don’t know enough about the details behind it. That’s a Patriots issue, we have enough of our own.”

And when the Patriots arrive at The Greenbrier in a couple of weeks, Payton doesn’t expect it to dominate the discussion, either.

“The good news is when that time comes, we won’t be in these long 30-minute press conferences, and I have a feeling the coach for New England will be the same way,” Payton said. “You guys know how I feel about Bill and their organization. I think they do a great job. Anytime we’ve gotten a chance to practice with them, our teams have gotten good work out of it. I think the same will be the case two weeks from now.”

New face

New Orleans signed Chris Highland, a long snapper from Illinois State, according to Highland’s agent, filling the final spot on the 90-man roster left open by the team’s decision to release Bunkley on Tuesday.

Highland was one of three undrafted free agents who tried out with the Saints during the team’s mandatory minicamp in June.

A two-time FCS All-American at Illinois State, Highland faces a tough task in trying to unseat established veteran Justin Drescher, who has handled the Saints’ long-snapping duties the past five seasons.