The New England Patriots didn’t have a first-round draft pick last year, a penalty for the team’s role in Deflategate, and guess what? It didn’t matter.

New England won its fifth Super Bowl with the greatest comeback in the event’s history, beating the Atlanta Falcons in overtime, 34-28.

The Patriots enter this week’s NFL draft without a first- or second-round pick after trading both away on March 11. And guess what? It shouldn’t matter again.

The Patriots were uncharacteristically busy this offseason, making trade additions (tight end Dwayne Allen, explosive wide receiver Brandin Cooks and pass-rushing defensive end Kony Ealy) and signing free agents (shutdown cornerback Stephon Gilmore, versatile defensive lineman Lawrence Guy and running back Rex Burkhead) who should keep them in title contention for years.

Their moves were certainly better than any AFC East opponent.

And they might not be done.

There are several pieces still in play entering the draft, among them cornerback Malcolm Butler (who recently signed his free-agent tender), backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo (with one year remaining on his rookie contract) and running back Mike Gillislee (a restricted free agent from Buffalo who signed a two-year, $6.4 million offer sheet from the Patriots last week).

The Bills have until 4 p.m. Monday to match the offer sheet to Gillislee, a 26-year-old power runner who gained 577 yards last year and scored eight touchdowns. If the Bills pass, they receive the highest of New England’s two fifth-round picks.

But the drama might not end until sometime Thursday night. The first round of the draft begins at 8 p.m., and Bill Belichick has swung a few draft-day trades – 57 in 17 drafts he’s overseen with New England, 33 in the last nine years.

As it stands now, the Patriots won’t pick until sometime late Friday, with the eighth pick of the third round, No. 72 overall, which they acquired from Carolina along with Ealy for their second-round pick at No. 64. They also have their own third-round pick, at No. 96.

But the Patriots haven’t changed their approach, working out and visiting many players who are projected to be first- or second-round picks. As Nick Caserio, New England’s director of player personnel said, “Our philosophy really hasn’t changed. We evaluate the players, we assign the grades to the players, and then however the draft ends up unfolding, then we deal with it as it comes.”

So don’t be surprised if something happens before the end of the first round on Thursday.

Butler hasn’t publicly spoken about his situation, but he did visit New Orleans and work out for the Saints shortly after the Patriots signed Gilmore to a five-year, $65 million contract, a clear indication he was shopping himself while he was still a free agent. No team was willing to give up a first-round pick for Butler, regarded as one of the NFL’s top cover cornerbacks.

Now that Butler has signed his tender for $3.91 million – a hefty raise from the $600,000 he made in 2016 but far less than Gilmore – he only will leave via a trade, which is still possible. In fact, it was rumored earlier in the spring that Butler would be traded for Cooks, a game-breaking receiver who should jolt the Patriots’ offense. Instead, the Patriots traded their first-round pick (No. 32) and a third-round pick (No. 103, originally acquired from Cleveland) for Cooks and New Orleans’ fourth-round pick (No. 118).

According to a couple national reports, the Saints are still interested, but apparently not willing to part with their own first-round pick at No. 11. It’s possible they could trade back the No. 32 pick for Butler, but would that be enough for New England?

If they keep Butler, the Patriots will have two lockdown cornerbacks and Eric Rowe as their third cornerback, as deep and talented a group as you’ll find in the NFL. If Butler is traded, then New England needs to replace him. Maybe last year’s highly touted second-round pick, Cyrus Jones of Alabama, can step in, but it would be a big jump. Jones was only on the field for 14.1 percent of the team’s defensive snaps and was inactive for all of the postseason games.

Then there’s Garoppolo, who proved last fall when he filled in for Tom Brady that he’s NFL-ready. And the Cleveland Browns, who have five of the top 65 picks in the draft, desperately need an NFL-ready quarterback. But are they willing to put together a draft-pick package that the Patriots will like? And are the Patriots willing to trade their best backup to Brady, who will turn 40 in training camp? It might come down to who blinks first. And that’s never Belichick.

The Patriots only will trade Butler or Garoppolo if it makes them a better team, because keeping them for the 2017 season certainly doesn’t hurt.

The Patriots clearly have holes. They still need a pass rusher, although Ealy is capable and Trey Flowers showed in the Super Bowl (2.5 sacks) how dangerous he can be. They need cornerback depth. Even though they re-signed game-changing linebacker Dont’a Hightower, they need depth at the position. Given that they released oft-injured tackle Sebastian Vollmer, they need offensive line depth. And if Buffalo finds the money to keep Gillislee, they need a power running back to replace free agent LeGarrette Blount, who appears to be moving on.

Whatever the Patriots do, or don’t do, in the next week, they’ve already put themselves at the head of the AFC class with their offseason moves. They may not have picks in the first two rounds, but the players they’ve brought in are proven and still young.

Allen, the tight end from Indianapolis with 19 career touchdowns, and Guy, the defensive lineman from Baltimore, are the old guys at 27. Gilmore (14 career interceptions), Burkhead and Gillislee are 26. Ealy (14 career sacks) is 25. Cooks (20 career touchdowns) is only 23.

Yes, NFL folks are always saying you don’t win championships in March and April, but the Patriots have put together a team that’s going to contend again, not only this year, but for years to come.

Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or:

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Twitter: MikeLowePPH