Bradley Handwerger / Sports Reporter

METAIRIE, La. Jon Stinchcomb tried his best to work his way back to Pro Bowl form after tearing his left quadriceps in the middle of this past season.

Alas, he didn't make it to the first week of the regular season

The Saints released the longest-tenured player with the team Monday, cutting ties with their right tackle in a decision that opens up the competition for a sixth-year or a second-year player.

'It was a decision we made to go with the younger players,' Saints coach Sean Payton said. 'Those are always tough decisions. In Jon's defense, he battled through an injury last season. He probably played his best football the year before. It was one we spent a lot of time on.'

Stinchcomb, who was taken by the Saints in 2003 with the 37th overall pick, started 80 consecutive games for New Orleans, including all 16 regular season games and three postseason contests during the 2009 Super Bowl run.

He earned a Pro Bowl berth that season, too.

He also has protected Drew Brees' front side since quarterback signed with the Saints in 2006.

'He's been one of the greatest teammates I've ever had,' Brees said. 'He's a true pro. He's everything you want in a teammate, in a football player, in a man, in a leader and obviously he's going to be missed.'

With Brees at quarterback and Stinchcomb leading the offensive line the past five seasons, the Saints led the league three times in that span while finishing first in scoring in 2008 and 2009.

He ruptured his right patella tendon in training camp in 2005, missing the Katrina season while rehabilitating at home in Georgia.

He signed a contract extension in March 2009 that would have taken him through 2013.

The battle now opens up to Zach Strief and Charles Brown.

Strief has worked with the first-team several days in training camp and while he re-signed with the Saints to earn an opportunity to start, he said cutting Stinchcomb was still shocking.

'It's really bittersweet,' Strief, a six-year player out of Northwestern, said. 'It's like somebody coming and telling you that you're getting something you've always wanted but at the detriment of your brother. And that's exactly how I see Jon.

'He has been a mentor here for me and a friend and he'll continue to be. But at the same time, it's hard to come out to practice and not see him here.'

As for Strief and Brown, Brees feels like they're good enough to get the job done.

He's confident that, despite the Saints losing two starters from a season ago center Jonathan Goodwin signed with San Francisco that the team will be fine.

Brown was a second-round pick in 2010, but was inactive for much of this past season. He started training on the failed physical list while he rehabilitated his hamstring.

'I think he's done well in practice last week, his first week back,' Payton said. 'He's athletic, he's smart. And I'm anxious to watch he and Zach during this process. He's someone that knows what he's doing.

'Obviously him being healthy is important, as he's had the hamstring issue. But we feel like he's gonna be someone, and Zach, both of 'em are gonna fight it out, and let's just see what we have and we'll evaluate the tape, the practice tape, and we'll kind of rotate those guys through.'

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