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 last 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 last November, and the injury lingered, forcing him to sit out New Orleans’ entire 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.”