A federal judge has ruled in favour of the National Football League Players Association in a major dispute with the NFL surrounding television revenue.

U.S. District Judge David Doty ruled that the league violated its agreement with the union in carving out $4 billion for itself in additional television revenue. The union had argued that the league was effectively stockpiling money to prepare for a lockout.

Essentially, the league had arranged to be paid by the networks in 2011, football or no football. This gave the owners a significant amount of leverage because they had that extra $4 billion to fall back on in the event of a lockout. But with no “lockout insurance” the league might be more prone to desperation in the face of a looming work stoppage.

Judge Doty ordered another hearing to determine relief for the players. No date has been set for that, but the players are undoubtedly rejoicing. They don’t exactly have the owners in a headlock, but they’ve definitely been given some extra breathing room of their own.

The league is obviously expected to appeal to a higher court. And even if they’re hyperventilating over this decision, they aren’t showing it. “As we have frequently said, our clubs are prepared for any contingency, this decision included,” said league spokesman Greg Aiello on Twitter. “Today’s ruling will have no effect on our efforts to negotiate a new, balanced labor agreement.”

The funny thing is that this hurts the players, too. If this stands, it’s lost revenue for both sides. But it was necessary for the union in order to gain a significant amount of leverage. We’ll find out tomorrow and Thursday if that helps current bargaining sessions, but there’s a chance the owners will just dig in and become more stubborn.

There’s also a chance this will increase the odds of a long-term lockout taking place. After all, the players no longer have everything to lose. Suddenly, both sides are a little desperate but it’s no longer lopsided. Now, tensions are rising as both the league and the union think they can come out of this victorious.

At least now, the players have earned some respect.

“After months of losing, the players are winning,” wrote ProFootballTalk’s Mike Florio. “And some of the folks on the owners’ side of the table would be wise to drop the hubris and start treating the players like partners again, instead of like employees.”