The move that signifies the end of one era in Atlanta Falcons history and the beginning of a new one came on Saturday night.
Eleven-year Atlanta Falcons linebacker Keith Brooking has moved on, signing a three-year deal that includes $2.5 million in bonuses with the Dallas Cowboys.
The five-time Pro Bowler, who has played all of his life's football in the state of Georgia, chose to accept a contract from the Cowboys after negotiating with multiple teams, including the Falcons.
Ultimately, the chance to start and play for a former coach in Cowboys head coach Wade Phillips were the deciding factors, Brooking's agent Pat Dye said.
Falcons' owner Arthur Blank issued a statement saying Brooking "will always be a Falcon in the hearts of his teammates and our fans."
Keith defined the Falcons in so many ways: his tenure, his leadership on and off the field, his commitment to excellence and his many resulting accomplishments, his love for Atlanta, and so much more.
Brooking was on the 1998 Super Bowl Atlanta Falcons as a rookie playing in a backup role and in the years since became the face of the franchise.
In the revolving door of failed draft picks, bad free agent signings, and the recent debacles involving a former quarterback wearing the No. 7 and a head coach who skipped town in the middle of the night, Brooking has been the constant with his play on the field and his tireless work in the community.
The Keith Brooking Children's Foundation, an organization that has earned Brooking numerous NFL community service honors, serves the Atlanta community by working with foster children in the metro area.
The Falcons' decision to not re-sign Brooking ends an era that many believed lived in the past, pinning the entire history of a franchise on one Super Bowl season.
It's also a reminder of the harsh reality that is the business of sports. While many players came and went through Atlanta, Brooking, wearing the familiar red and black, was always the constant, becoming more than just a No. 56 wearing an Atlanta helmet.
Atlanta came to see through the face mask, and Brooking became a recognizable face in the city. The end of the Brooking era should serve to remind Atlanta fans that they cheer for the uniform, not the player. It's not a comforting thought, but in the salary-cap era, it's a fact.
Brooking issued a statement through the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, telling the fans that Atlanta will always be his home and that he will "always be a Falcon at heart."
As I leave here, I know that I’ve given every ounce of my body, mind, and soul to this organization and hope that I’ve contributed to the team’s success along the way. I also leave here with the peace of knowing that the Falcons are poised for great success in the future.
General Manager Thomas Dimitroff spoke of hard decisions as he entered the offseason. No one doubted this was the hard decision he was speaking of.
Dimitroff has proven his mettle, showing he'll do what he feels is best for the team, no matter what. Falcons' fans, even though they may miss Brooking, should take that to heart.
It was clear Brooking's time as the face of the franchise had ended and it was time to move on, though he'll likely return someday to take his rightful spot in the Falcons' Ring of Honor.
But until then, someone else will wear No. 56, and that will take some getting used to.
This article originally appeared on the Atlanta Falcons Examiner page. To view, go here