The 26-year-old, an ever-present in the league last term for the Bantams, will join Burton Albion, with financial constraints at Valley Parade meaning a contract could not be thrashed out to keep him at the club.
McLaughlin had turned down an initial contract offer from Bradford earlier this summer, but had carried on training with them and featured in all of the club’s pre-season games prior to last night’s match at Ossett Town – and still harboured hopes of a deal being agreed.
But he has elected to leave for pastures new following 145 appearances for City, who signed highly-rated Jordan Pickford, 20, on a season-long youth loan from Premier League side Sunderland on Monday.
McLaughlin told The Yorkshire Post: “Unfortunately, it’s part of life in football, but it doesn’t ease the blow after being at a good club like Bradford for so long.
“When you have been at a club for so long, you pretty much know everyone closely at the club, not just players and staff, but everyone who works at the stadium. It was tough saying my goodbyes to everyone.
“I felt like I was really starting to get somewhere and I could have seen myself staying at the club for a very long time and going places with Bradford.
“Being an ever-present (last season) is probably the biggest kind of irony.
“The season before we had that incredible season and got promoted into a much tougher league and I have now probably had my best ever season.
“But in football, sometimes it’s time to move on and it seemed to get to that stage this summer, unfortunately.
“I tried everything I could to see if there was a way to stay, but in the end the best move was to make a clean break and look for a fresh challenge and start.”
Despite his departure, McLaughlin, who combined work as a bartender in Leeds with playing for Harrogate Town prior to joining Bradford in May 2008, leaves with a medley of memories.
The clean sheet he kept in the Bantams’ 3-0 League Two play-off final win over Northampton in May 2013 is top of the list along with being part of the squad which stunned football by reaching the final of the Capital One Cup in 2013.
He added: “The club and myself came a long way since I joined after they were relegated to League Two.
“I feel I have grown with the club and become more and more established with the club having also improved all along.
“It’s been a great experience and I couldn’t have asked for a better start in professional football after coming from non-league and working for a living.
“It’s great Bradford have been my first club, although it would have been nice if it was a little bit longer.
“But I am now looking forward to life at Burton and seeing how far we can kick on.
“There have been opportunities at clubs in other divisions. But a concrete offer from a club like Burton doesn’t feel like a drop down in division or class as they have been a team who in the past two years have been unlucky not to reach League One.”
On McLaughlin’s exit, Bradford manager Phil Parkinson admitted: “Jon has been a great servant to the club and we would have ideally liked to see him stay.
“But financial constraints mean it hasn’t been possible to strike a deal that is right for both parties.”
Barnsley have suffered a blow in their quest to add to their striking ranks after seeing a bid for Dagenham and Redbridge frontman Rhys Murphy turned down.
Murphy is recovering from hip surgery but that did not stop the Reds, who last week sold 2013-14 top-scorer Chris O’Grady to Brighton for £500,000, tabling a bid with the ex-Republic of Ireland Under-21 international set to return to action in September.
The 23-year-old hit 13 goals last term and was the subject of a failed bid from Peterborough in January.
Barnsley have pipped Doncaster Rovers to the signing of midfielder James Bailey on a two-year deal. The midfielder had been on trial at Rovers.