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Is the Pittsburgh Steelers' championship window closing?

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LATROBE, Pa. -- In a building they shared here with a Mr. Rogers exhibit, the Pittsburgh Steelers announced last weekend the next inductees into their Hall of Honor.

Among the group were two personnel men -- Art Rooney Jr., the longtime personnel director who is the son of the larger-than-life franchise founder, Art Rooney, and Bill Nunn, the legendary scout who was at the forefront of discovering talent in historically black colleges -- and three former players, one of whom, Buddy Dial, spent just five years with the Steelers as a dominant receiver in the early 1960s.

That announcement came just a few days after the Steelers began camp with an address from Art Rooney II, the third generation of Rooneys to run the team. His message, according to general manager Kevin Colbert, was simple.

"You can talk about six championships, but his point was we've been around 86 years," Colbert said. "We only have six. So there's still work to be done."

The celebration of the anonymous talent evaluators and the fealty to a long history of success would seem to dovetail nicely with Rooney's way of sharpening the focus of the big picture to hone in on this year's goal. But while the Steelers have been models of consistency in both approach and results, this summer has been more complicated.

The Steelers failed to reach a long-term deal with running back Le'Veon Bell, the best at his position in the league, and he will play under the franchise tag for the second straight season. Colbert has had to spend time in the first week at camp defending coach Mike Tomlin, who has won a Super Bowl and gone to another, but who became the focus of Steelers fans' ire after the team was stunned at home by the Jacksonville Jaguars in the Divisional Round of the playoffs last season.

The subsequent big-money deal Todd Gurley received from the Rams did not cause the Steelers to second guess their approach to Bell, who will undoubtedly use Gurley's contract as a benchmark when he hits free agency next year. They hope Bell's absence from camp is not as long as it was last year, when Bell, franchise-tagged then, too, finally reported in early September. Bell's situation, though, hovers over the entire camp. The Steelers had the NFL's third-ranked offense last season and the hand-wringing among one of the league's most fevered fan bases has already begun over what feels like an incrementally closing window, magnified by uncertainty stemming from Bell's future and Ben Roethlisberger's age.

Colbert, though, shrugged when he was asked about Bell's seemingly inevitable departure.

"We're all year to year," Colbert said. "Whatever he decides after this season or we decide collectively, we'll worry about that in February, March, April. Whenever he gets here, we'll just be focused on 2018."

Gurley's deal will reset the running back market, but Bell is more than two years older and his heavy workload and nearly 1-yard dip in yards per attempt last season suggest that the Steelers might have already gotten the best years of Bell by the time he leaves. Their negotiations with him, though, point to a larger and longer organizational philosophy. The Steelers do not zigzag through personnel decisions any more than they cut a swath through coaching changes. They are patient -- they negotiated with Bell for two years -- and they are consistent. The Steelers and Bell clearly have vastly different ideas of his value and that will probably cost the Steelers a superb player. But Colbert said the philosophy actually makes his job easier rather than more difficult.

"We just attended the Hall of Honor, you follow guys like the Chief [Art Rooney], Mr. [Dan] Rooney, Art Jr., Art II, we know what the rules are, what the consistencies have been and what the results have been," Colbert said. "So, really, to follow the organizational game plan that has been successful is easier to do than to try to recreate, trying to find the identity, with each one."

And so the long view goes on, most notably with the quarterbacks. Roethlisberger arrived at camp noticeably trimmer at age 36, a result, he said, of cutting sugar and carbohydrates from his diet in an effort to prolong his career. Silenced, so far, have been the annual ruminations on retirement. Roethlisberger announced his intention to play at least another three years soon after the Steelers moved up to select quarterback Mason Rudolph in the third round of this year's draft, but the first days of practice have made it clear this was a pick for the future anyway. Roethlisberger looks refreshed and Rudolph needs refinement.

"That was an easy decision," Colbert said of the call to draft Rudolph. "We had six first-round types in our opinion. When a quarterback of that ability is available in the third round, you're doing your organization a disservice if you don't make that move. If Ben was 26 instead of 36, you're maybe not going to do it with the higher pick. But Ben is further along and Mason will need time to develop. To have options at the most critical position is our organizational responsibility."

Follow Judy Battista on Twitter @judybattista.

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