Some seriously massive labor news broke last night, setting us up for what was supposed to be an interesting Tuesday in the world of labor hell. Instead — and in spite of a reported lunch meeting between Roger Goodell and DeMaurice Smith — mediation between the owners and the players ended midway through the afternoon with no finalized plans for more talks until after the NFL’s appeal of Judge Susan Nelson’s injunction decision is heard on June 3.

In the meantime, we await Judge David Doty’s crucial ruling in the $707 million TV damages case that could see the players gaining some leverage back. Doty’s decision and a full decision from the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals will set the tone for labor negotiations (and maybe more litigation) in June, July and maybe even August and beyond.

It appears as though the owners will have to give up some serious cash in the TV damages case, which will provide temporary relief for the players and could even give the trade organization formerly known as the NFLPA a chance to refill a nearly tapped-out lockout fund that was broken open several months before many expected such a measure to be necessary.

But it also appears as though the owners will win their appeal of Nelson’s decision, granting the league the right to lock out the players for as long as they’d like. The players’ options would then be limited. Eventually, they’ll begin to crack without regular paychecks and will be forced to get something done with the Goodell and Co. There’s no use waiting until October or November or 2012 for that to happen if they know that the league has all the leverage.

The only way in which I see this thing dragging out is if the players elect to appeal the Eighth Circuit panel’s decision to the Eighth Circuit en banc (all 16 judges, not just the three on the panel). But considering that 13 of the 16 judges in that court were appointed by Republicans, you’d have to think that there’s a good chance the players will throw in the towel after a negative decision from the three-judge panel.

Yes, the players can also attempt to appeal to the Supreme Court, but doing so would require them to sit around twiddling their thumbs while awaiting a decision from the Eighth Circuit en banc and then a decision from the Supreme Court. That process — depending on what gets expedited — could take months. Is that worth all the lost paychecks?