EAGAN, Minn. – Za'Darius Smith is a large man, and not only in stature.
The Vikings new outside linebacker has a larger-than-life personality and grin that matches his bulking frame. Smith's smile made its entrance as the 29-year-old exited a vehicle outside Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center last month.
Minnesota welcomed Smith for a free agent visit that concluded with him signing a contract to become a member of the Vikings.
Smith simply carries an electricity about him, an energy that's infectious. Minutes after arriving at TCO Performance Center, he walked over to a video display featured in the facility's lobby playing highlights of Smith – as a Packer – playing against the Vikings.
View photos of Vikings OLB Za'Darius Smith touring TCO Performance Center and getting introduced to the team for the first time.
"This is amazing. You all did this, right?" Smith asked, gesturing to Vikings Entertainment Network members behind multiple cameras before posing in front of the display. "Did you get some good shots?"
Those cameras shadowed Smith throughout his visit, capturing behind-the-scenes moments – that otherwise would never have been seen by fans – for the Vikings latest episode of the Introducing series.
A meeting with new Vikings General Manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah prompted an excited, "Mr. Kwesi! How's it going, man?" followed by an embrace between the two.
"I like this. I like what you guys did for me," Smith told Adofo-Mensah.
"This place is so first class," the general manager told his prospective linebacker.
Smith's liveliness was nearly matched by new Vikings Head Coach Kevin O'Connell, who greeted him with, "I heard you have some energy!"
In a later interview after inking the new deal, Smith said it "felt like family" from the moment he walked through the door.
"[I'm] excited, happy and ready to be a Minnesota Viking," he said.
Smith is just one of nine new faces – as of today – the Vikings have added to their roster through free agency.
The first wave of signings included linebacker Jordan Hicks and defensive tackle Harrison Phillips, who on their first day toured the Vikings Museum with none other than Pro Football Hall of Famer John Randle.
Vikings Legend John Randle gave DT Harrison Phillips and LB Jordan Hicks a tour of the Vikings Museum during their first day with the team.
Hicks, who previously played for the Eagles and Cardinals, considered it an honor to learn about franchise history from one of the very players who helped establish the Vikings legacy.
"It's awesome to see the history. How deep it is," Hicks said. "You hear about the fans and the team, and it's cool to be here to experience it, be immersed in it, and really get my first introduction to what it's going to be like playing here."
Randle showed Hicks and Phillips the "Minneapolis Miracle" wall and various exhibits paying homage to the team's most successful seasons and eras – including the "Decade of Dominance," the period in which Minnesota went to four Super Bowls and earned 11 division titles under Hall of Fame Head Coach Bud Grant.
"They [won't] tell you this, but they're looking for some fresh blood," Randle told Hicks and Phillips. "They're hoping someone else can do this again."
Randle added: "We need some new memories in here. Some new blood up in here."
Phillips and Hicks learned about the Vikings Ring of Honor members and viewed the "Frozen in Time" ice columns recognizing the six players whose jerseys have been retired. Among those of course is Hall of Fame defensive tackle Alan Page, whose legacy in Minnesota has extended far behind the football field.
"We call him 'The Judge,' " Randle told the teammates, explaining that Page earned his law degree while playing for the Vikings and later went on to serve as a Minnesota Supreme Court Justice.
Phillips, who was one of five finalists in 2020 for the NFLPA Alan Page Community Award, connected most with the odes to Page and the Purple People Eaters.
"I did my research on him when I found out the name of the award," Phillips said. "It's really cool what he's done, and I really like how well the Vikings organization honors him and respect that, too. That stuck out the most to me."
He and Hicks studied the column encasing Page's jersey, cleats and his NFL MVP trophy.
"Page was in good shape, man," Hicks said.
Minnesota's defense has often been a point of pride, and the team's new leadership is working hard to make improvements to a unit that has struggled in the past two seasons.
In addition to Hicks, Phillips and Smith on defense, the Vikings have added new cornerbacks in Nate Hairston and Chandon Sullivan (a teammate of Smith's in Green Bay) and also returned veteran corner Patrick Peterson.
"That team is stacked, just like I talked about last year," Peterson said. "We just didn't put it all together in certain situations, but we got even better this year in the offseason by adding a great offensive mind in Coach O'Connell, adding a pass rusher (Smith) to help Danielle [Hunter] and with [Defensive Coordinator] Ed [Donatell] coming from his defensive background. … These guys are definitely trying to put the pieces in the right place. Now it's just all on us and the coaching staff and the players to go out and execute and put together the best game plan possible … so we can get some dubs.
"I'm excited about it, and my family is excited about it," Peterson added.
Minnesota has also bolstered the offensive side of the ball, adding to the interior offensive line with Chris Reed and Austin Schlottmann and signing former Rams tight end Johnny Mundt.
As new players join the Vikings locker room, they hope to make an impact on the team's legacy and increase the number of museum-worthy moments.
Like Phillips said during his tour, "Why not us?"
"You think about the path you take, where it can lead you to, and [suddenly] you're part of history," Randle said.