FRISCO, Texas — Leighton Vander Esch walked into the 10th annual Reliant Home Run Derby on Wednesday night as the defending champion after taking the crown in 2022 and defended his title with a 10 home run performance that helped raise $17,000 for charity.
For the sixth-year linebacker, he knew it was his to lose as he was quick to agree that he was the favorite going into the night.
"Of course I am," Vander Esch said with a laugh.
With several other headline players joining Vander Esch at the derby, there was plenty to unpack, as they all spoke on important changes to the Cowboys' roster for the 2023 season along with looming contract talks on cornerstone players like Dak Prescott, CeeDee Lamb and Trevon Diggs.
LVE on Dan Quinn:
With new faces joining the defense in the coming weeks with the draft selections of Mazi Smith and DeMarvion Overshown in addition to the signing of Stephon Gilmore, Vander Esch dished on his excitement that Dan Quinn will still be around to lead the group.
"The culture and the vibe that he brings into the room each and every day is just unmatched," Vander Esch said about Quinn. "I've said it a hundred times, but the energy he brings is contagious. You want to be around him. He could've gone and gotten a head coaching job anywhere he could've wanted, and the fact that he stayed here with us shows how much he cares about this crew and what we can do."
"We have another opportunity to do that this year and get that trophy, so that's our goal and nothing short of it."
Dak Prescott on His Future in Dallas:
Prescott has had a busy offseason training for his own game and getting accustomed with Brandin Cooks, and despite some early contract buzz coming around the corner, he's intently focused the season ahead.
"I've gone into this offseason just trying to be the best that I can," Prescott said. "That's stuff that I leave to the Cowboys. They got it done years ago and when it's time to get it done again, I trust the both of them. Stephen [Jones] has said that it might happen overnight, who knows right? But it's not even in my concerns or thought process."
CeeDee Lamb on Contract Talks:
CeeDee Lamb's fifth-year option was picked up by the Cowboys last month, ensuring that he will stay in Dallas for at least two more seasons. As for a long-term contract beyond that, Lamb is excited about what is in store.
"Very excited," Lamb said. "Dallas is somewhere I always wanted to be and I don't see myself wearing any other jersey. I don't want to get too much into detail about it but I'm excited for my future."
Trevon Diggs Wants to Stay Put:
A fellow member of the 2020 rookie class in Trevon Diggs is entering the final season of his rookie deal as conversation begins to happen about his worth not only at the cornerback position, but for what the Cowboys have built on the defensive side of the ball.
"Hopefully something gets figured out," Diggs said. "I love Dallas, I love being here. We'll see."
Diggs has been friends with Stephon Gilmore for a while now, but now that the 12-year veteran is in the same building, the two have been able to take the next step in their on-field relationship ahead of training camp.
Stephon Gilmore on Defensive Expectations:
"I think we can be as good as we want to be," Gilmore said. "I think I can bring my mentality and my competitiveness. We have a lot of great guys on the team, but I've played a lot of ball. Just trying to teach as much as I can and teach those young guys as much as I can while making plays myself."
The tight end room saw a lot of movement this offseason with Dalton Schultz moving on to Houston and Luke Schoonmaker being drafted in the second round on Friday night, but Jake Ferguson couldn't be more excited about what is in store for the position group.
The addition of Luke Schoonmaker to the roster, by way of the Cowboys' second-round pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, sets the expectation that production lost due to the decision to move on from Dalton Schultz will be readily replaced by a hungry, multi-faceted tight end room.
"Schoon, I'm excited to see him in the room and excited to meet him," Ferguson said. "The four horsemen just added another one, it's gonna be exciting."
Micah Parsons on Mazi Smith Pick:
The competition became playfully heated when Micah Parsons began to take the derby a little personal, so much so that Dak Prescott said it eventually became "everybody against Micah."
"I just really like competing, really," Parsons said.
Speaking of being competitive, a video of Parsons jumping out of his chair with excitement hit social media after Dallas made the Mazi Smith selection last week, a move that instantly takes Quinn's depth chart to new heights, as he got the wish he wanted in the first round to help with the run defense.
"He's gonna add a tremendous help in the run game," Parsons said about Smith. "He's low, he's powerful, strong and big-bodied. It's something we've been missing, too. He's a big boulder that will really help in this run defense and to push the pocket."
Osa Odighizuwa Excited For, About Mazi:
Osa Odighizuwa is also excited about a high draft pick making their way to Dallas (officially) in the coming weeks as he has already struck up a close relationship with first-round pick Mazi Smith.
"Definitely looking forward to working with him," Odighizuwa said. "Someone that's gonna come in and help the defensive line is exciting to me. I think it's important to build that relationship, someone you're gonna be working with a lot. I felt like it was important to reach out and connect off rip."
"I've been around some great ones, and we've been throwing around and let me tell you, that guy can sling that ball," Cooks said. "I'm just excited to get going, no doubt. He's special with that ball coming out of his hands and his natural-born leadership. There's a couple guys that I've been around that can lead a team, and the way he's doing it being this young is unbelievable for sure."
Cooks quickly got to work with Prescott following the trade being made official, and the two have seemingly established an instant chemistry the Cowboys hope will make the offense more explosive than opposing defenses can hope to handle.