Colchester United have completed the signing of Brighton captain Dean Hammond for £250,000.
Hammond leaves after seven years at the Withdean (Getty Images)
The 24-year-old central midfielder would have been available on a free transfer in the summer, having spent seven years with the Seagulls.
Boss Geraint Williams told the club website: "He enjoys the physical aspect of being a midfielder and has the energy to get from box to box.
"The fact that he has been captain at Brighton means he is a good character."
Seagulls chairman Dick Knight added: "We did everything possible to persuade Dean to stay, including offering him an extremely generous new contract with a get-out clause if we didn't get promotion this season.
"But his Bosman-free status at the end of this season - and the opportunity that offers agents and players - has seriously influenced negotiations."